NOV 16, 2017 5:20 AM PST

New Cancer Drug Approach Avoids Friendly Fire in the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

With any cancer, developing treatments is difficult because cancer cells are an abnormal version of healthy cells. Any drug used to kill cancer cells runs the risk of killing healthy cells during the process. In the case of T cell lymphoma, the healthy cells that are at risk of friendly fire are vital cells of the immune system that are needed to defend the body from infection.

Subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. Credit: L. Wozniak & K.W. Zielinski

In collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Autolus Ltd, scientists from Cardiff University developed a new approach to treating T cell lymphoma, one that zeroes in on cancerous cells and keeps healthy T cells safe and fully-functioning.

As its name suggests, T cell lymphoma is a cancer the originates in abnormally growing T cells, a population of cells vital to a cell-mediated immune response that specifically targets incoming pathogens. Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer, and T cell lymphoma, a rare and usually aggressive cancer, accounts for 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the United States.

"We wouldn't last a week without the essential job our T cells perform by protecting us from infection,” explained Cardiff University’s Andrew Sewell. “The devastating effects of low numbers of just one type of T cell are all too evident in HIV/AIDS.”

The new approach to treating T cell lymphoma is based on the two genes responsibel for creating the T cell receptor, a surface molecule that helps T cells recognize specific pathogens. A T cell is made by either the “C1” gene or the “C2” gene, and because cancer starts with a single cell, a whole tumor is either entirely made up of C1 T cells or of C2 T cells.

So, scientists decided to try and destroy T cells based on whether they were made by the C1 or C2 gene. In theory, they could target C1 T cells to kill C1 cancers while leaving C2 T cells alone, and vice versa. This eliminates the problem faced by scientists in the past looking for T cell lymphoma treatments, where telling the difference between healthy and cancerous T cells was tedious and not always accurate.

“Since T-cells select use of the C1 or C2 gene at random, this remaining half of T-cells are capable of providing immunity to the pathogens we encounter every day,” Sewell explained.

"This study has demonstrated it's possible to kill cancerous T-cells but importantly spare some healthy ones, opening up exciting new treatment possibilities,” said Cancer Research UK’s Dr. Justine Alford. “T cells are a vital part of our immune system and our survival.”

The present study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Source: Lymphoma Research Foundation, Cardiff University

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 23, 2021
Cancer
A Safe and Effective Combination Therapy for Advanced Cancer
AUG 23, 2021
A Safe and Effective Combination Therapy for Advanced Cancer
Immunotherapies are emerging as a promising strategy for the treatment of late-stage cancers which currently have m ...
AUG 23, 2021
Microbiology
During a Chronic Viral Infection, Immune Cells May Suffer 'Exhaustion'
AUG 23, 2021
During a Chronic Viral Infection, Immune Cells May Suffer 'Exhaustion'
Several viruses are known to cause chronic infections, one is hepatitis C virus (HCV). Researchers studying these infect ...
OCT 26, 2021
Immunology
Two Different Arms, Twice the Cancer-Killing Potential?
OCT 26, 2021
Two Different Arms, Twice the Cancer-Killing Potential?
Our immune system has developed an arsenal of sophisticated molecular weapons to defend us against the continuous barrag ...
OCT 28, 2021
Immunology
Unlocking a New Target to Treat Gut Inflammation
OCT 28, 2021
Unlocking a New Target to Treat Gut Inflammation
  Immunologists have uncovered a molecular switch in T cells that serves as a prime target for therapeuti ...
NOV 02, 2021
Immunology
Green Tea Isn't an Antioxidant After All (But It's Still Good for You)
NOV 02, 2021
Green Tea Isn't an Antioxidant After All (But It's Still Good for You)
Green tea has long been touted as the elixir of youth—high concentrations of chemicals called polyphenols were bel ...
NOV 08, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Understanding How Problems in Bone Marrow Transplants Arise
NOV 08, 2021
Understanding How Problems in Bone Marrow Transplants Arise
The hematopoietic system is how new blood cells are formed; hematopoietic stem cells in bone marrow generate new hematop ...
Loading Comments...